deadheads: the dead c.

Paul McKessar, Alley Oop #9 (NZ), 1990

I first encountered this trio making their racket at Dunedin's long-lost Chippendale House venue about four years ago.

Even then, I found that Michael Morley, Robbie Yeats and Bruce Russell were a beautiful mass of swirling contradictions onstage. Lurching from aggressive sub-hardcore to introspective noodling of the most sublime variety, they thundered on, and I went racing back to see them at every rare opportunity I had to do so.

Next it happened on record - the Flying Nun LP, DR503, where they mixed cut-up studio techniques with pieces that were only short and long. Not a three minute heavenly hit in sight,as the Dead C. grafted parts together, 8-track rubbing shoulders with walkman recordings to make up a single version of a song.

Musically, they remain largely unchanged - their latest release on Tom Lax's Siltbreeze label includes a version of 'Bury' which was recorded in a number of different settings, and their songs can be anything from 40 seconds to fifteen minutes long, but are seldom inbetween.

The key to this band remains their steadfast desire to do it. Would people make noises that horrible if it wasn't comin' straight from their insides, howling out and ripping at yr senses? I'm lucky cos I love them, but even if you don't, the Dead C.'s power to stun or suck you right into the proverbial maelstrom has to be admired.

Anyway, after four years, three albums, three cassettes and a single, the Dead C. are doin' just fine, thank you. So interview time - Bruce, wearing his Dead C. hat, agreed to respond to my prodding when Michael and Robbie found they couldn't spread anymore mystique-promoting lies about their band ...


P: Do you like the motto I found for you?

BR: I don't know what it means, and judging from previous experience with your sense of humour, Paul, I'm sure I heartily disapprove of it.  We're a clean-living band and I want the world to be reassured of that.

P: So you have your own motto?

BR: Never use 2 chords where 1 will do.

P: Is it dangerous for people to write Dead C. without the full

BR: Try it, loser.

P: Is it dangerous for people to leave by the trapdoor fucking exit?

BR: We recommend they have a shower afterwards.

P: The Christchurch Press review of Eusa Kills stated something about 'hearing folk music', yet in Stamp, M Hyland called Dead C. 'anti-folk,' what gives?

BR: Mr Hyland was using us as an example to maintain a dubious thesis based, if I remember correctly, on a typology of modern music derived from Velvet Underground LPs. Paul Collett was listening to Eusa Kills. You work it out.

P: Is Robbie really the best guitarist in the Dead C.?

BR; Undeniably. Listen to the bass part on the DR503 version of ‘3 Years', the lead guitar on 'Bad Politics', or our forthcoming SILTBREEZE 7" 'Hell Is Now Love'. The guy's a natural, he’s the only member of the band with a 'trad' sense of melody.

P: Is Bruce the worst drummer?

BR: Easily. A lot of it is onehanded. I can only keep time with one limb at a time, I think that's why they let me do it.

P: Do you just let Bruce drum for self expression?

BR: Yes, that's why we do any of it at all. My drumming also enables us to do completely 'freeform' stuff, with complete absence of sustained tempi.

P: Is what the punters hear on rec/cassette/CD very often 'freeform' as such? Your live performance seems to consist of a fair bit of the old 'freeform' bludgeoning of audience; is it much the same 'in the studio'?

BR: Yes, sometimes we have a 'song' to start with (around which we improvise) but of course a lot of it is 'pure improv.' This is all very well, but sometimes this means that we can do a record and then have next to no 'repertoire' because we don't remember how to play any of the songs. After completing Eusa we were able to play only 4 out of the 11 tracks.

P: Why doesn't Robbie sing?

BR: I think we're getting around to this.

P: Why doesn't Michael sing?

BR: Ask Michael.

P: Why does Bruce always leave the door open whilst under the spell of a particularly beatific crap? (Is that the trapdoor fucking exit? - Scatalogical Ed)

BR: 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof'. 

P: It is generally considered by those who can stomach it that the Dead C.'s music is beautifully ugly. What does this reflect? 

BR: This is a reflection of reality, Paul. Life is beautifully ugly and our music reflects this perfectly. We are the most ‘real' band in this game-show nation. I don't want to get drawn into a philosophical discourse, but our music takes its form from outside influences filtered through the twin polarising patterns of our complete technical mastery of the medium we work in and our wilful disregard for musical niceties. Like the AXEMEN we are successful in what we do because we have no qualm .

P: Are these 'outside influences, ever musical. It's pretty easy to spot where the 'weed from the devil's garden' makes it's mark on yr music, but what about say, artists drawn at random from a list including the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, This Heat, or Sebadoh?

BR: We are not w/out 'influences', but they're intuitive influences, not prescriptive. By that I mean that we garner attitudes but we don't copy riffs or whatever, we just don't know how to. Personally, early Cab Volt, This Heat, The Fall, Pere Ubu, VU, Swell Maps, and    I Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos were pretty influential.

P: Are the Axemen kindred spirits?

BR: I guess the A-men are on our wavelength in a way (tho'they are far more song-oriented) Marie and the Atom sure were , and the Sferic Experiment - I quite surprised more people haven't followed our lead, surely anyone could do better?

P: The band's first release was the limited edition cassette 'Max Harris'. Is there any question that I can ask to go
with this?

BR: 'Max' set the pattern for our later career, in that we recorded the 2 versions of the song at our 2nd and 3rd practices, and released the cassette (which came in a hand printed woodcut cover w/ illustrated booklet) immediately. From the start we were a 'studio band', we didn't make a public debut for another three months, by which time we'd recorded half of the DR503 LP. The 14 minutes of torture (recorded on a shitty two- track) astonished even us on playback - we'd done one track and then the other was OD'd 'blind' (or rather 'deaf’) without reference to the first. Truly a model for subsequent recording sessions. It will feature on the US CD of DR503.

P: Your 'methods of torture' remain largely unchanged since those days. Is there a definable 'process of refinement' from yr earliest to latest recordings, or are things just getting crazier?

BR: The major 'development' in our recording career occurred halfway thro' the DR503 sess ions when we got Richard Steele to bring his 4-track portastudio out to Port Chalmers for some 'field recordings'. We really loved the idea of recording at home where we could be as 'free, as we liked, and when we heard the DR503 vinyl and realised that the portastudio stuff (eg 'Speed Kills') sounded BETTER than the 8-track, why, we were hooked. For Eusa we borrowed the Verlaines machine, then Michael bought his own, and we were 'away', as they say. I think if you line 'Bury' up against DR503, it is clear that things are getting crazier as well. It definitely is not something you listen to you're feeling at all 'fragile', unless you're a masochist like Mr Lax (our American Friend) who says the Dead C. are one of those bands who sound best when you're on the brink of “disaster”.

P: Do you treat your instruments with love? Do you keep your guitars under your bed?

BR: Guitars are an interesting topic. Yes, I care for my guitars. I care for the 2 year old strings on the blue 5
string, I care for the beaten trenches in the fretboard of my Elsey-customised red guitar, and I care for the tin-can pick ups in the Espanada. You can't make that kind of noise without caring for them, Paul, nosireel But my real instrument is the Concord Contessa amp, and I really do care for it as well, I'm even thinking of fitting it with a towel-rail on top so I can run the frets over it while keeping the pick-ups against the speaker. Is that LOVE or what?

P: Does Mr Yeats own any drums now?

BR: I understand that his kit is his share of five years superstardom with the Verlaines, so I guess he owns, it. Sure the fuck earnt it.

P: These words obviously hold special meaning for the Dead C. - drugs, glenfarquis, home brew. Are these your weaknesses or 'real strengths' as a band?

BR: That's GLENFARCLAS, loser. They are our weaknesses as human beings, but very much our strengths as a band. The DEAD C. doesn't 'happen' below a certain level of the first, supplemented (when available) by the second and third.

P: Has being the Dead C. got any easier as time has gone by?

BR: Well, it's always been rather easy. We were laughing hysterically at our first practice, when we realised the three of us could make this particular 'noise,’ which epitomised everything we'd ever loved about 'music', and in a sense we haven't stopped laughing yet. We laugh at ourselves, we laugh at our peers, we laugh at America. Even tho’ we now do more than we used to, it's still just as easy. If we ever have to work at it, we won’t be able to do it, fullstop. Having Tom Lax on our side has made things easier in some ways. Not having to make money has certainly made things easier. If we needed $120,000 to make an LP, I'd say that life would be terminally difficult, but we could make 2,400 Lps for the price of one Straitjacket Fits album, and since we don't aim to make quite that many, we have no problems.

P: When will it end? I take it that the C.'s 3 see no point in letting up the current momentum of recording etc, but for how long can you keep up this pace?

BR: I can't tell you, Paul. I think we can keep up the recording 'pace' for a while yet. I can't predict what will happen, we are still having 'fun', I guess. Stay tuned.

P: Why did the ChCh Press reviewer believe that Eusa was recorded in a shed in Port Chalmers? Does it sound like it was?

BR: No, it sounds like it was principally recorded in the cavernous confines of Studio 13, overdubbed both there and in a tin-shed in Auckland, and mixed in a lounge-room with newspaper walls in Port Chalmers, actually.

P: Studio 13 - lucky for some! Is it the best place you've recorded?

BR: I should say so, Paul! Mr Galbraith is our ideal of a studio-owner. He just lets us go to it while he's upstairs with a belt-sander looking after ‘business'. Acoustically A1, cheap, low-tech, and a great place to play gigs too. We are even considering letting him record us himself, next time.

P: Have you full dispensed with engineers now?

BR: Well, no, actually Michael engineered Eusa, 'Helen', Trapdoor and 'Hell Is Now Love', and we are contemplating Mssrs. Galbraith and Kilroy for future sessions, but then they are hardly 'engineers' in the sense you mean, they are soulbrothers.

P: Is sampling stealing? Your rudimentary approach to it is the least-veiled stealing I have come across - I mean, those fucking monks that turn up on TDFE, since when were they in the band?

BR: A non-issue. All composition is 'stealing', can you copyright a chord? A word? Our sampling use, which is all completely unauthorised twiddling by Michael and by no means 'group policy', is just the icing on the cake, not central to song construction. on a forthcoming BANANAFISH 7", we even sample ourselves. Big fucking deal.

P: Why was Heazlewood allowed in? Is it like freemasonry, did you notice the way he was holding his dick at the urinal in the octagon one day?

BR: Brother Heazlewood (or to give him his true title, the Grand POO-Bah Heazlewood) is not a mason. I have never seen him so much as look at a goat. I think you should abandon this smear campaign right now, it will only bring your dubious publication into yet further disrepute. No comment.

P: How much room is there for additional membership in the club? When does the need, for an additional instrument/voice/whatever appear?

BR: We are currently practicing w/ Joan George playing bass, and we'd like to work more w/Richard Steele on saxaphone, we hope to do a session with him soon. Personally, I like the threelegged stool approach, but it seems we will continue to augment this at times.

P: ?sdrawkcab sdrocer C daeD yalp i fi raeh i Iliw tahw

BR: Quite physically sick, I should say,and serve you bloody well right, you silly little tit.

P: How did you manage to pull 'Scarey Nest' together? It sounds so much like a song, that the 3Ds managed a reasonable facsimile in their one-time cover of it!

BR: I did my best to pull it apart, personally, but Neil Young writes such resilient little ditties that even my moronic 2note 'lead' couldn't dismantle it. And they did not manage anything like a 'resonable, facsimile, the only words Mitchell knew were 'wool’ and ‘laarghl’, and Saunders played neither of the notes.

P: Are Your songs getting 'simpler'?

BR: No, but your ‘questions' sure are.

P: Would you care to elaborate on your relationship with the old fella downstairs? When will the DR (Diabolic Root) series end?

BR: a.No.
b.Listen for the trumpets and the crunch of headstones toppling over.

P: The structure/structure-less dichotomy - which pulls harder, the desire for things to fall apart, or- -come together-, as the Beatles would say?

BR: All things are one, Paul. If you go far enough one way, you find yourself coming back the other, like Ferdinand Magellan. Of course, he was dead when he 'came back', wasn't he?

P: So many bands write songs about swimming and drowning, yet the Dead C. resolutely continue to examine the undanities of life, still obsessed by the same old touchstones... 

BR: Wait a minute - "About"? How can a noise which goes 'Wheeeeeiaeec iaDUNGDUNGDUDUNGwheeiaTCRANGTCHY TCHKoooom mmmmmmmmmm... (ad infinitum) be 'about' anything?

P: Celine wrote - "There's not much music left in one that Life can be made to dance to, that's what it is. All of one's youth has gone now to the end of the world, in a silence of facts to die. And where can one go, I ask you, when one is no longer sufficiently mad?" Was he really talking about seeing the Dead C.?

BR: Obviously he was, though perhaps he would have been 'sufficiently mad' if he'd ever had the 'pleasure' of doing so. You will find a 'silence of facts' in out music, if you listen carefully enough.

P: What about your ambivalent attitude to live performance? Do the Dead C. perform?

BR: Define 'perform', Paul. We are ambivalent because there are ambiguities in the understanding our audiences have of that which constitutes a 'performance'. Our truest performances have all occurred at home in practice, the best record of the band would be a 'candid camera' videotape of such an event. We fall over, lie down, kneel, nod, sleep in live, performances too, but usually only when obscured by filmic presentations.

P: Why do people snigger or giggle out loud at the Dead C.? Who has the best laugh in the band? Describe it.

BR: They giggle because we intend them to. We were convulsed when we heard the test-pressing of Eusa, it's the funniest record in the world, when you line it up with other Flying Nun 'product'. As Festival records said in the ad "Mmm... ain't nothing like the smell of it’

Bruce is too shy. He failed to answer the second, allimportant part of this question, knowing full well that he has the best laugh in the Dead C. - a glorious full-throated roar that used to sound like a walrus enjoying having a plank rammed up its ass. In recent times, the laugh has also taken on a peculiar, wavering Woody Woodpecker inflection, which I believe to be a fine development on an already exemplary guffaw. I only say this in the hope that the Dead C. make use Of such a vocal asset in the future. (If you listen hard, a whooping, appreciative variation of the laugh appears on the Puddle's Live At The Teddy Bear15 Picnic LP).

Should children listen to the Dead C. unsupervised? Have you sent tapes to kindergartens, videos to 3:45 Live or records to the Ministry of Education? 'Life In The Fridge Exists' wanted to interview me about my lifestyle. I told them that I had nothing to say to young people and that I chose not to discuss my lifestyle on TV. Let them grow up in peace, not pieces.